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The term Ribeira Sacra, meaning ‘holy river bank’, is used to refer to the lands that border the confluence of the rivers Sil and Miño, and includes parts of the provinces of both Ourense and Lugo . From early Christian times hermits and then monks settled in the area, building monasteries which exerted an influence over the whole of Galicia. The canyons of both rivers are impressive but those of the Sil are steeper, rockier and more inaccessible than the greener, gentler banks of the Miño, which have lent themselves more to human habitation.
Wine production has been central to the fortunes of this area since Roman times when the first terraces were carved out of the rock by slaves and one of the delights of the area is being able to see so clearly how the cultivation of grapes has shaped the landscape. Following the expulsion of the Islamic invaders in the 15th century, the monasteries gave a fresh impulse to the production of wine in the area, encouraging people to re-settle there. Today, after the ravages of phylloxia and the civil war, wine-making in the Ribera Sacra is thriving: three million bottles are produced every year and many of its bodegas or wine cellars have won both international and national awards. The combination of native grape varieties, slate and granite soils, and the microclimates of the rivers and their terraces produce excellent growing conditions, for distinctive red wines in particular, which resemble no others in Galicia or for that matter the rest of Spain.
The Ribera Sacra is, it goes without saying, a wine-lover’s paradise. The production of wine here falls into the category of ‘heroic viticulture’ and as you look giddily down from the bodega Regina Viarum to its vineyards, and then the river, you can understand why. The terraces of these canyons, some lying at angles of 45 – 60 degrees, were chiselled out of the rock and to this day many are still cultivated mainly by hand with the grapes being carried on pickers’ backs to the top of the gorge. This bodega’s red wines, particularly its trade mark Mencia, have won many prizes.
In addition to the natural beauty of the area, its architectural and religious heritage and its bodegas, the region boasts a number of man-made attractions which are well worth a visit. The wine centre of the Ribeira Sacra based in Monforte offers tastings as well as a comprehensive insight into the history of wine-growing and its influence on the culture of the area, whilst its recently opened centre, located in the priory of San Pedro de Rocas, provides useful insights into the area’s geology, its culture, ancient trades and traditions including, of course, wine-growing.
Unless you are going to join an organised tour – and these do run from Ourense – you will need a car to explore the Ribeira Sacra. However, there are plenty of other ways to experience the best that the area has to offer. Catamaran trips along both the Sil and the Mino are very popular. The former, which start near the monastery of Santo Estevo , provide wonderful close-up views of pocket handkerchief-sized vineyards dotted about the inhospitable slopes; the boats moored below are evidence of their continuing inaccessibility by land. Interspersed between the vines are native trees and vegetation in every shade of green and startling rock formations jut out into the river, some of them reminiscent of modern sculptures.
Everywhere you look in the Ribeira Sacra there are way-marked routes and walking here will certainly get you to places that are inaccessible by road. However, because of the extensive drop in height from the top to the bottom of the river gorges you will need to be feeling very energetic to tackle one of these. For those who fancy taking things a bit easier and sampling some wine along the way, the Tren Turístico , which starts from Doade, is a delightful way of negotiating some of the most spectacular stretches of scenery, whilst also visiting three bodegas on the way.
We are working to start offering new tours for our customers.
Subject: Re: Peers’ Feedback/International Camino Forum at Santiago 2015
I would be delighted to work with you. I believe we already spoke in 2012 when I was in charge of recruiting Travel Agency and Marketing and of course I have heard a lot about you in Santiago in particular from José Manuel from Taxi Travel SCQ and Sue Kenney. During the Forum,The Riveira Sacra Roman Winery Region received very good recognition and review from the attendants of the International Camino Forum and earlier in an article that appeared in the New York Times. Together with Finisterre(The End of The World) and A’Coruna(Roman Hercules Lighthouse), Riveira Sacra(The Sacred River) Roman Winery Region are all within close proximity of Santiago de Compostella. The Region is less known to the Public and is able to preserve its historical charms making it very worth while for a day trip or a short stay away from Santiago.